Web Exclusives: More

July 4, 2001:
Fresh face on the literary scene
An offshoot of Immaterial.com, Cabinet offers the eclectic and art
By Rob MacKay '89

Question: Buddhism, Marilyn Monroe, using the nose to eat, elephant art, and Swedish bingo. What do these topics have in common? Reply: Read the first issues of Cabinet, the new quarterly magazine edited by Sina Khajeh-Najafi '87, and the connection will be obvious.

Launched in December of 2000, Cabinet is an international collaboration of artists from every imaginable genre - not to mention a few unimaginable ones - brought to glossy paper. Content consists of unique articles, photographs, interviews, illustrations, and CDs mixed with other mind-expanding tidbits that leave the reader asking, "How did they think that up?"

In each issue there's a 16-page section in which members of Khajeh-Najafi's "cabinet" are asked to consider a theme. In the first issue, for example, the focus is on planned languages. As a result, there's an article on speaking Martian, an interview with an Esperanto speaker, a translated poem by a Mexican leftist entitled "Marilyn Monroe y Yo," and a CD which features chanting and sound art."The idea is to choose common themes, but to go deeper into the interest," says Khajeh-Najafi, a comparative literature major whose thesis was on 19th-century French novelist Gustave Flaubert. "Cabinet is kind of a staging ground between academia and journalism."

Showing there's no sophomore slump, the second issue includes advice on where to get the best clay to make fake pre-Columbian artifacts, how to find a recipe for a Brecht pastry, and how to control chimpanzees by radio.

Future issues will offer their slants on weather, animals, evil, and gift-giving. "This is a cabinet of curiosities, the reader can find many different things that logically shouldn't be stored in the same place, but are," says Khajeh-Najafi, who used to live in Stockholm and was coeditor-in-chief of the Swedish art magazine Index.Cabinet is actually a facet of a nonprofit called Immaterial (www.immaterial.net; Cabinet issues are available there), a New York City-based umbrella group that promotes a wide range of artistic and cultural activities aided by grants from the Flora and Frankel foundations. Among its more than 30 members are curators, scientists, critics, historians, poets, architects, and philosophers, many of whom live abroad. On a volunteer basis, this group organizes conferences, exhibitions, and anything else that members feel is necessary.

A recent Immaterial collaboration called "War" gathered 10 sound-artists each in Belgrade and New York City on a Sunday. They then proceeded to create battle noise for two hours for WBAI and Radio B-92, a renegade station banned by Yugoslavian strongman Slobodan Milosevic. Everything the nihilistic New Yorkers knocked out was broadcast on the left speaker, while the belligerent Belgraders blasted from the right speaker.

"A lot of the most interesting art going on these days doesn't get covered by mainstream media. Well, we want to explore it," says Khajeh-Najafi, a native of Iran who grew up in England. "We also want to reflect on what artists think about when they're making art." The American Library Association named Cabinet the best new magazine of the year, but it is really just getting off the ground. Khajeh-Najafi does not get paid for his 75-hour weeks. For money, he translates documents and teaches comparative literature as part of his Ph.D. program at New York University. Sounds like an exhausting week. How
long can he keep up this incomprehensible stuff? Says he: "I just love it, as does everyone who's involved, and I really want to make it last. We're definitely in it for the long haul. It would be nice to prove that you don't need $3 million to start a quality magazine."

Rob MacKay, is an editor at Timesnewsweekly, a weekly newspaper in Queens, New York. He can be reached at robertazo@hotmail.com.